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101 Places to Wheel Before You Die - Great Plains/Mountain West

Posted in Project Vehicles on April 1, 2008
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Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest near Deer Lodge, Montana
Location: Flint Creek Mountain Range, 35 miles north of Butte on Interstate 90.
Length: Unknown.
Time: 1 week
Experience: Beginner to advanced.
Points of Interest: Historical mining area with many lakes. It's generally only accessible to travel from July through October due to snow. Lots of wildflowers are in bloom in the spring and summer in subalpine meadows. Many creek crossings and huge granite boulders can be expected. There are numerous spur trails in the area too, suitable for hiking. For historical flavor, spend a few hours at the Grant Kohrs Ranch National Park for a look at ranching in the mid 1800s, and visit the "old" Montana Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge. Favorite trails are Carruthers/Mountain Ben, Bowman, and Alpine Lakes on the west side, and Blizzard Hill to Leadville on the east side.
What You Need:
Information: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 406/683-3572,
---Willie Worthy

Black Bear Pass, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Location: Considered a '10', the infamous Black Bear Pass is a one way road that is a must-do for serious off-roaders. The start is just south of Red Mountain Pass on US 550. The trail starts just south of Red Mountain Pass on US 550 (N 37deg 53.784' W 107deg 42.814'); ending at the Pandora Mill just outside of Telluride (N 37deg 55.895' W 107deg 46.732'). It's a one-way trail from the top of the switchbacks portion down to the mill, above the town of Telluride.
Length: The trail is approximately 12 miles long. Open and easy-to-navigate track from the paved road up to the series of switchbacks and steep grades with shale rock on the Telluride side.
Time required: Minimally, plan on an hour from the trail entrance to the summit and then approximately one hour to the base, depending on traffic, stops for photos and to calm your nerves. Traffic on the trail varies, and snow and ice can accumulate over night, especially in shaded areas. Best to allow either a full morning or afternoon to enjoy the trail and scenery.
Experience level: Not for the faint of heart, or those with fear of heights. Best motored by skilled drivers that know the corners of their vehicle and have the ability to make 3-or-5-point turns; drivers need to be more experienced and precise with manual transmissions. A spotter helps! Vehicles and people are lost over the sheer drops every year; be sober and serious.
Points of interest: Just shy of 13,000 feet, the summit offers majestic views in all directions, the remains of Black Bear Mill and a bird's-eye-view of the picturesque town of Telluride, nestled in a valley below. Two-thirds of the way down the switchback trail is Bridal Veil Falls, the highest waterfall in Colorado.
What you need: This legendary trail is only open for a few months from mid-to-late summer through early fall, so check with locals to find out the condition of the trail. Low range vehicles only; best traveled in a short-wheel-base vehicle, with lockers and good rubber underneath a help, although experienced drivers have completed the trail in full-sized vehicles, as well. Always carry recovery gear (tow strap, etc) along with food, water and first aid kit. Use one of the many tour operators to take a guided run, if you have questions or want to scout the trail.
Information: Get Black Bear Pass topo map. lists high country pass status. gives trail history and coordinates.
---Sue Mead

Black Hills, South Dakota
Location: 20 miles west of Rapid City
Time: Some trails in the Black Hills can be run in a few hours, but give yourself plenty of time.
Experience Level: Intermediate to advanced
Points of Interest: Nestled within the Black Hills of South Dakota are some of the most technical, difficult rockcrawling trails in the country. Tight trees, huge granite boulders, and undercut ledges test vehicles and drivers at every turn. The trails can be difficult to locate and are best travelled by the visitor during the Dakota Territory Challenge, Black Hills Cruiser Classic, or Jeep Camp.
What You Need: Lockers, sturdy axles, big tires, and plenty of body armor will make your visit to the Black Hills more enjoyable
Contact info:,,
---Harry Wagner

Farmingdale, South Dakota
Location: 20 miles east of Rapid City
Time: As long as you want (or until you break)
Experience Level: Beginner to advanced
Points of Interest: Hills, cracks, and berms reminiscent of Truckhaven Hills in Southern California. Areas to jump, flex up your suspension, and climb insane hills. And since the whole area is dirt and clay you don't have to worry about denting up your sheetmetal. If you are feeling really adventurous you can try to climb the steep hills to the west of the parking area.
What You Need: Any vehicle from mild to wild, expect to share space with motorcycles and quads as well. If you are on foot, watch out for prairie rattlers.
Contact info: Not applicable
---Harry Wagner

Hell's Revenge, Moab, Utah
Location: Hell's Revenge is just a mile or so southeast of Moab off of Sand Flats Road.N38 34.56 W109 31.46
Length: 8 miles
Time required: 4 hours
Experience level: Intermediate
Points of interest: Hell's Revenge is the classic Moab slick rock trail and is a must-do if wheeling in Moab. This trail will present you will challenging obstacles, near vertical climbs and steep descents with several optional obstacles. Don't miss the views across the slick rock mesas, as well as the stunning La Sal mountain Range in the distance.
What you need: Capable stock rig
Information: Sand Flats Recreation Area(800) UTAH-FUN
---Sean P. Holman

Highway 236
Location: Central Montana
Length: 100 (or so) miles
Time: About 2 hours, much longer if it has rained recently
Experience level: Cars do it all the time when it's dry
Points of interest: No cell phone service exists in this remote area and we consider that fact a major point of interest. The state of Montana calls this a road, but that's debatable, especially after it rains. After driving through 80 miles of nothingness the road ends at the Missouri River where the state-run McClelland Ferry will carry your vehicle to the other side. From there it's another 20 miles or so to the tiny town of Winifred.
What you need: When it's wet, you'll need a four-wheel-drive with a decent set of aggressive tires. Be prepared to self-extricate your vehicle if there's a problem and since this road is lightly traveled and has no cell service bring extra food supplies, water, gas and other survival items. The biggest challenge that we found was where the road drops into the river bottom near the Missouri River. It got real muddy real fast.
---Ken Brubaker

Imogene Pass
Location: Accessible from either the Ouray or Telluride areas
Length: 18 miles
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Experience level: Moderate
Points of interest: This is the second highest drivable pass in Colorado. This road should not be taken lightly as weather conditions in the high country can change rapidly. On this trail you'll encounter everything from rocky shelf trails to water to mud. You'll cross Imogene Creek several times and pass Savage Basin, which is the home of the ghost town of Tomboy.
What you need: We had always done this trail in modified Jeeps and it didn't seem that tough. We recently did Imogene in a stock rental S-10 Blazer in a snowstorm and it wasn't pretty. Even if it would've been dry it would've been a challenge to traverse. For this reason we recommend utilizing a vehicle with some suspension and tire modifications. Depending on the previous seasons snow pack Imogene may not be plowed open until July and it closes when it becomes impassable with snow in the fall.
---Ken Brubaker

Kane Creek Canyon, Moab, UtahN38 28.25' W109 36.09'
Location: From Main Street in Moab, turn at Kane Creek Boulevard (McDonald's is on the corner). Veer left onto Kane Creek Canyon Road at the "Y" (0.6 mile). Continue for approximately 10.6 miles. Turn left at the Kane Creek/Hurrah Pass junction (this is the Kane Creek trailhead).
Length: 14 miles
Time required: 4 hours
Experience level: Intermediate
Points of interest: You will be greeted with over 50 water crossings and gorgeous red rock gorges. Kane Creek, with its obstacles, consisting of a few shelves and a waterfall is enough to get the blood pumping through any enthusiast and is one of our favorite Moab trails, mixing scenery and challenge in to a great day trip. Watch out for quicksand and high water levels on a wet day.
What you need: 32-inch tires, traction aids, and recovery gear.
Information: (800) UTAH-FUN
---Sean P. Holman

Little Sahara Sand Dunes, Utah
Get lost in the dunes of the Little Sahara Sand Dunes in Western Utah. Carve crescent waves of sand through one hundred twenty-four square miles of wind swept dunes and desert OHV routes. Take on the challenge of 700-foot Sand Mountain or roll through over 60,000 acres of open OHV area. Getting There: From Delta, Utah (approximately 115 miles southwest of Salt Lake City), head thirty-four miles north on U.S. 6 and head west at N39-42-47.60 W112-12-12.00.
What to bring: Pack all your sand toys, camping gear and plenty of fuel. Park maps are available at the park HQ and during big weekends there are numerous gear vendors. The action runs 24/7, so use ear plugs if you like camping near the crowds (the Sand Mountain primitive camp). The more sedate Oasis camp area has 114 paved sites, flush toilets, water and an RV dump station.
General Rules: The Jericho area is reserved for non-motorized use. Safety flags are required, firearms are illegal and helmet laws apply for minors. And don't forget to tread lightly and pack your trash out. Fees are a bargain at $8 per day per vehicle or $50 for an annual pass. For info, surf the web to:
---Chris Collard

Monitor & Merrimac, near Moab, Utah
Location: Approximately 15 miles north of Moab, from the intersection of Hwy 191 and Mill Canyon Rd.
Length: 12 1/2 miles
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Experience: Beginner (if you stay on the trail), advanced if you don't.
Points of interest: If you've never wheeled over rocks before, this 12-mile loop is a good place to learn some of the finer points of rock-crawling. The first few miles are a straightforward mix of small rocks and dirt until the midway point, where the trail rises in elevation over broken patches of slickrock, with a few moderate drop-offs and some decent-sized boulders to work around. Technically "off the trail," but marked with a sign, is Wipe-Out Hill, at the six-mile mark---a steep, off-camber dogleg of loose shale and rocks that's best attempted only by trail-built rigs with experienced drivers.
What you need: If you steer clear of Wipe-Out, not much---M&M can be traversed by any stock high-clearance 4x4 if driven carefully. If it's your first time out, an experienced spotter would be good to have along for a couple of the rougher stretches, and some good all-terrains and a locking rear diff will make the drive a lot easier for newbies. The trail makes several streambed crossings on its return leg, so be ready for wet encounters in the rainy season, and as always, have plenty of spare food, water and emergency gear with you.
Information: BLM Moab Field Office, 435/259-2100,
---Doug McColloch

Mosquito Pass
Location: Accessible from Leadville or Alma, Colorado
Length: 13.6 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Experience level: Moderate
Points of interest: This is the highest pass road in Colorado open to vehicular travel, so that alone makes it worth the trip. At the 13,185-foot summit there are incredible views. There are legal side roads but they can be challenging. Old mines dot the area and snow tends to stay in the shaded areas late into the year.
What you need: High clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle with a good spare tire or two. Bring extra water and survival supplies as conditions at this altitude can change rapidly.
---Ken Brubaker

Poughkeepsie Gulch
Location: Near Ouray, Colorado
Length: 4.1 miles
Time: 1 hour if you're lucky
Experience level: Difficult
Points of interest: Accessed by following the Alpine Loop and Engineer Pass trails, there will eventually be a sign for Poughkeepsie Gulch. A long shale rock climb is the first obstacle, and it has been known to shred tires. Shortly after, a rock stair step looms and there is a potential for vehicle damage on this obstacle. There is a by-pass around this obstacle. A short drive further up the mountain will offer spectacular views of Lake Como. You'll eventually top out on Hurricane Pass and you can either reverse course or take Corkscrew Gulch towards Ouray.
What you need: High clearance four-wheel-drive, a spare tire or two, extra water. This trail is not as heavily traveled as some of the other Colorado trails.
---Ken Brubaker

Red Cone Pass, Webster, Colorado.
Location: Red Cone is a one way road and loop trail. Follow county road 60 off of US 285 at Webster (N 39deg 27.402' W 105deg 43.293' ), follow CR 60 past Hall Valley Campground turn right at (N 39deg 29.008' W 105deg 48.240' ) and follow signs to the top of Red Cone Pass. Red Cone ends at the top of Webster Pass (N 39deg 31.883' W 105deg 49.961' ). From Webster Pass return to US 285 by turning left.
Length: Approximately 20 miles, with other off-shoot trails to be investigated, as well.
Time required: Plan on the entire day to allow for rest breaks and sightseeing.
Experience level: You need to have experience at navigating technical 4WD trails and confidence in yourself and your vehicle to be successful and enjoy this noted trail, with extreme exposure for 3/4 of a mile at the top of the pass.
Points of interest: This is an exciting and difficult technical trail, with sheer and heart-arresting drops above tree line and as you crest Red Cone Peak, at an elevation of 12, 801 ft. The views are spectacular.
What you need: You will need a 4WD vehicle with high ground clearance, skid plates, lockers will help, aggressive tires and a recovery kit. The beginning of the trail is narrow with rocky climbs and switchbacks. Be prepared for snow and ice at the top, as well as in the shaded glades.
Information: Get maps of the area before exploring, and make sure the pass is clear of snow. Information and maps available at and, as well as BLM.
---Sue Mead

Seven Mile Rim, Moab, Utah
Location: This picturesque trail starts approximately 12 miles north of Moab, off of Highway 191. Turn left 1/2 mile past Highway 313. Head north on Cotter Mine Road, and bear left one mile onto trail, climbing up steep hill. One mile further is a 7-Mile Rim sign at the start of the trail. When exiting the trail, take a right on Mill Canyon Road; 1/10 of a mile into the Tusher Wash, exit right to continue on Mill Canyon for approximately 2 1/2 miles east to Highway 191. (N38 42.01'W109 42.60' to N38 43.16'W109 45.75')
Length: This 12.5 mile-long loop is marked by painted white dashes on the rock trail that guide you to over the best track. Brown sign posts also mark the trail. Some of the most difficult places on the trail have a bypass track.
Time required: Best done as a half-day trip, allow three to four hours, but plan on longer to take photos and short side trips to interesting features along the trail.
Experience level: While fun, this trail is extremely difficult in some spots, but can be easily navigated with the correct vehicle and a confident driver experienced in off-road driving technique. Plan on using a spotter and follow the white-dash guidelines for vehicle track. One section of the trail near Merrimac Butte can feel-and be-tippy--be cautious, if you have a fear of heights, and make sure to look at the track ahead and not the drop-off. Wipe Out Hill is optional, as a side trail allows for bypass. Make sure you can get up WOH-before you go down!
Points of interest: This trail with sandy track and slickrock is rewarding for its beautiful red-rock canyon lands vistas throughout the length of the trail, as well as majestic and interesting rock formations that include Monitor and Merrimac Buttes (named after the battleships!) and Determination Towers. Side trips take you to other features, such as the SevenMile Canyon Overlook.
What you need: You need a 4WD vehicle with high ground clearance, skid plates, tow hooks and good tires. Always carry recovery gear, food, water and first aid kit.
Information: BLM, Moab Field office; Moab Jeep 4 x 4 Trail Reports; Dan Mick's Guided Tours (435-259-4567)
---Sue Mead

Shiloh Ridge ORV Park
Location: Alto, Texas
Size: 1,200 acres
Time: At least two days
Experience level: Mild to wild
Points of interest: Two mud pits, rock area, sand hill and hill climb. Shiloh Ridge has one or two special events per month.
What you need: The park has 44 RV sites with full hookups, 82 water only RV sites and unlimited primitive camping. There is a concession area and showers/restrooms. Pricing for a non-event weekend to enter the park is $20 per vehicle (includes driver) per day and $5 per passenger per day. Camping prices are $16 per site per night for water/electric, $10 per night for water only and primitive camping is free.
Information: 936/858-2193,
---Ken Brubaker

South Padre Island
Location: South Padre Island, Texas
Length: 34 miles
Time: 2 hours to 2 days
Experience level: Beginner
Points of interest: There is one legal entry point for vehicles north of the town of South Padre and it's there you pay a small fee to drive on the beach. The sand is tightly packed for the first few miles but becomes loose the farther you travel. You can drive to the Port Mansfield Cut, which separates South Padre Island from the Padre Island National Seashore. Along the way you'll enjoy solitude and tall sand dunes dotted with salt-tolerant grass.
What you need: Aside from the aforementioned permit, airing down your tires is all that's needed for a stock vehicle.
---Ken Brubaker

Thompson Lake Trail
Where Is It: Near Maxville, Montana, approximately 60 miles northwest of Butte on Hwy 1.
Length: 40-miles loop trip from Maxville to Thompson Lake.
Time: A full day.
Wheeling experience: Intermediate to advanced.
Points of interest: Good graded Forest Service roads lead to non-maintained and at times challenging trails. Snow can be quite deep before July, making access to higher elevations impossible. This is a very scenic area with water crossings, numerous lakes and tight turns.Thompson Lake, which is in the middle of a non-motorized area, is accessible by (of all things) a non maintained county road. Lots of remains of early mining activity are in the area. Be sure to stop at the lake---motorized travel beyond the lake is illegal, but it's worth your time to hike to the two other lakes above it.
What you need: A chain saw---it's not uncommon to find fallen trees across the trail. Long-wheelbase vehicles may have some trouble in turns, but it is do-able.
Information: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 406/683-3572,
---Willie Worthy

White Wash Sand Dunes, North Eastern Utah
This area is particularly popular for riding ATVs, but with the right rig, White Wash Sand Dunes can be a blast in any type of powerful 4x4. The area is located 48 miles northwest of Moab, Utah. Cherished for its scenic beauty, the terrain consists of red sand mixed with traditional Moab slickrock. Large cottonwood trees dot the lower sections while stunning red cliffs to the east provide a spectacular backdrop. In addition to dunes, White Wash features many miles of dirt two-track, perfect for exploratory day trips and follow-the-leader fun. Camping is allowed and is made convenient by the nearby facilities at Green River. If you choose to have a campfire, be sure to use an existing fire pit. To find directions check out
---Robin Stover

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